Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mosquito Land

First, just let me say that stopping for very long in the river bottoms is a bad idea. It's a beautiful place, but you have to keep moving to enjoy it, or wear a full bottle of mosquito repellent. Also, a word of advice about drinking coffee in the morning, and then going for a 23 mile bike ride..........perhaps the picture of mosquitoes, coffee and distance is developing in your mind.

On July 13-2010, I began the trail backwards, as I sometimes do, parking in the dusty area at the end of the little dirt road that winds about, criss-crossing the bike trail. (This does not mean I have learned to pedal backwards, but that I began at the end of the trail, rather than the beginning.) This road is accessed off County Highway Y, by the bridge that spans the Red Cedar River. To get to Y, take Highway 25 south from Menomonie, through Downsville and then about 3 miles further. Go left (east) until the bridge over the Red Cedar River is reached. Take the very next right onto the dirt road into the Dunnville Bottoms, where the Red Cedar River and the Chippewa River meet. The river bottoms area (or Red Neck Riviera, as I call it) is wild and looks like a good place to bury bodies. It also is a haunt of late night parties, hunters, fishermen and swimmers who frequent the changing sand bars of the Chippewa River. A warning then: the Chippewa River is to be respected. It is not a slow farm river, but has a fast current, dragging trees underwater and shifting the sand bars from week to week. Swimmers beware.
To access the Chippewa River Trail, I parked the car and hoisted my bike up the washed out dirt path to the end of the Red Cedar Trail. Go south, across the trestle bridge, less than 1/4 mile. At the very end of the bridge is the beginning of the Chippewa River Trail. If desired, a cyclist could go all the way from Menomonie to Eau Claire on a trail, approximately 37 miles. 
  Pedaling after a short while, a fork in the trail appears. Take the choice of going west, to Durand, or east to Eau Claire . Since my goal was Eau Claire, I turned left. The first town reached will be Meridean, 4.5 miles away.
 The Chippewa River Trail is paved. Paved! What a treat. Yes, in some areas, it is bumpy, and crumbling, but who would expect a bike trail of 23 miles to be entirely paved? OK, to be accurate, the trail is actual pavement from Short Street in Eau Claire to just short of Caryville. From Caryville to this trail junction it is asphalt emulstion which is hard packed but not good for skating. On a bike, it is good going. I have not found the packed/screened limestone trails (such as the Red Cedar Trail) to be a problem; I have a mountain bike with hybrid tires.I can't speak for the skinny tire crowd.
  Many bridges cross over small streams and wetlands. Get a sense of where you are, and what happened right where you are traveling. Stop to read the historical signs that explain about life a hundred years ago. Imagine the deer path seen now was once a busy river crossing. 
 This part of the trail closely follows the Chippewa River. A chain of three islands appears to your left: Pasture Island, Happy Island (What makes it happy?) and Brush Island. Some years ago I rode this portion of the trail with a friend. There was a wooden chair at the end of one of the islands facing west. Perhaps it was a seat for fishing. Perhaps it was a seat for viewing the sunset. The day we saw it, an eagle was perched on the back of the chair, taking in the view. We rode down the trail to Caryville, and turned back, not expecting to see the eagle again. When we reached the island with the chair, the eagle was still meditating.

The "eagle chair" was not there anymore. Probably the river had washed it away.The bench seen here is one of many along the trail, provided by the trailmakers.
From the trail junction it is 4.5 miles to the small village of Meridean.  Bike around and take in the sights. It won't take long. There's not a rest room or a place to get a drink here, but the next stop at Caryville won't be far: 7 miles.
All the way along to Caryville, the trail is wooded and shady. On a hot day, a shaded trail is perfect! Some steep rock sides, fern glens, woodland flowers and bridges over streams make it very pleasant biking. Just don't stop long: state birds (mosquitoes) rule the area.
 By this time, any biker might be desiring "facilities", and you will find them in Caryville. I desired facilities long before this, and found a private spot in the woods, taking care not to nest amongst poison ivy. I was very popular with the mosquitoes.
If you wished to park your car and bike from here, it makes a good sort-of-half-way location to either Eau Claire or Durand. You just have to bike back! From Caryville to the Highway 85 rest area (almost to Eau Claire) it is 5 miles. From Highway 85 rest area to Eau Claire: 7 miles. Going the opposite direction, Caryville is 7 miles from Meridean, 4.5 miles from Meridean to the trail junction, and then 6.5 miles to Durand. Your choice. 

Caryville has facilities and snacks. About this time I desired something cold, so I bought a popsicle. Always carry cash with you to get a drink or a treat. Don't run out of energy, but don't overeat either. I also carry granola bars, and of course, a water bottle loaded with ice cubes and water. After a time, the ice melts. Wet water is still good, but a popsicle.................!!
From Caryville to Eau Claire, the land changes from woods to farmland. There's still a welcome tunnel of trees now and then, but generally it is much more open.
Above: If you look very very closely, you can see the ski jump.Corn is doing really well this year. You might also view some nosy cows, and smell their contributions to the environment.
The biking is easy, flat, very few road crossings. Since I was biking during the week, I didn't meet many bikers either, but striking up a conversation with a resting cyclist is always interesting. It's not far to the Highway 85 rest area.
I didn't stop here, but it is another opportunity to get on the bike trail from a parking area. And "rest". The Friends of the Chippewa River State Trail provide lots of good information on their website. According to their info, there is no drinking water available here at the moment. I don't know why. But that is why YOU always carry enough water.

Nearing Eau Claire, more signs of civilization appear. Overpasses. Industrial areas. I like biking through gritty places as well as countryside; they are just interesting to me. 
 There will be other historical markers telling about old settlements that are no longer there. Read them. You are standing where people from years ago labored to make their way in conditions far different than now. I'm just doing some recreational biking in a place where they were lifting and toting heavy stuff. They built houses and mills. It's mostly all gone. Ghostly.

The Short Street location crosses Menomonie Street. You could park here too. Continuing on will take you to an impressive trestle bridge crossing the Chippewa River. The boards run diagonally, with no belting to pad the bump bump bump. It's kind of narrow, also. Take care meeting other cyclists and pedestrians. Great view.
There are directional choices to be made. I chose to go directly along the river, going through the edge of the University of Wisconsin/Eau Claire and the back side of the Water Street District shopping area. This choice can be a little confusing. Once over the bridge, you could curve sharply to the left down a hill, or go to the right. Either way will eventually get you to the Phoenix Park trail head, but I recommend curving sharply to the left to follow the river. It's more fun. You will miss the Dairy Queen though. You might be confused (I was) that you should follow the State Trail here, and you certainly could, but I like going right along the river. Ends up the same.
 You are entering Studentland. They will be enjoying the Chippewa River in all ways that it can be enjoyed. During this stretch be prepared for pedestrians, many bikes, children, and dog walkers. Your biking experience has changed from country to urban.
Just off the trail is Water Street, a university-influenced area with excellent restaurants, coffee shops, BARS (this is Wisconsin!) and quirky shopping of various sorts.You might want to lock your bike somewhere and visit. You DID bring your lock, right?
The river shore features a little beach or two, and landings for folks out tubing. A do-it-yourself venture. Pretty soon, a view of the final destination appears across the river: Phoenix Park. This has been developed in the last few years to feature a large office/business building, a pavillion for music events, farmers' market, (rent it for a wedding!) gardens. You will cross another trestle bridge to get there. When you arrive, parking is available there too. Perhaps someone could pick you up there, because you know it is a long ride back to where you started, a reversed journey. But first, check out the Phoenix Park district. Again: excellent restaurants (I recommend Pad Thai, Stella's, and Galloway Grill) some shopping and BARS! We don't like to be thirsty in Wisconsin.
Trial head location: Phoenix Park, Eau Claire, WI. Riverfront Terrace, off Madison Street. Click on Phoenix Park, on that page click on "park map" for directions.
Length: 23 miles
Usage: (Summer) Walking, running, biking, in-line skating non-motorized.  (Winter) walking, running, cross-country skiing (ungroomed) and snowmobiling (Short Street to Durand).
Surface: 10 feet wide. Smooth asphalt from Eau Claire to Caryville. Caryville to trail junction: oil-based, chip sealed asphalt emulsion good for biking but not roller blading. From trail junction to Durand: smooth blacktop. Very new.
Road/highway crossings: Yes, but not too many. Observe the stop signs. Many bridges.
Scenic: Yes. Follows the Chippewa River in many places. Farm land, some industrial areas, woods, wetlands, meadows. Watch for wildlife.
Trail signage: The Chippewa Valley System (Chippewa River Trail, Red Cedar Trail, Old Abe Trail) has excellent signage. Historical markers add interest. Mile markers are helpful.
Regional trail system: Chippewa Valley Trail System: Chippewa River Trail, Red Cedar Trail, Old Abe Trail. The Chippewa River Trail will be connected to the Old Abe Trail in the future making it possible to bike from Cornell, WI to Menomonie or Durand.
Rest stops: Eau Claire Phoenix Park: parking, rest rooms, drinking water and nearby businesses. Highway 85: parking, (sometimes)drinking water, rest rooms. Caryville: parking, restrooms, drinking water, grocery store. Meridean: parking. Durand:  parking, rest rooms, drinking water, and nearby businesses. See above posting for mileage.

Those are the facts, Jack. It's an excellent ride. You will have to decide where you start and stop, if you want to double back or not. 
Mantra: Keep on pedaling and no bears.

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